Tag Archives: Ragbrai

Goodbye, @Ragbrai_Iowa. Hello, @Gen_con

The Ragbrai chapter of my life has ended. Probably. We’ll see. I’d like to go back again someday, maybe when my publishing schedule is better arranged to slide in training. Here are some pictures in case you missed them on Twitter (I’m @AuthorLeeFrench).

First pie of Ragbrai, actually had at Shari’s in Moses Lake, WA.

My home away from home for the week of Ragbrai. This year, I splurged and got the tent rental from Pork Belly Ventures. Worth it.

A nice, welcoming touch in Orange City, IA.

I think I got snookered with store-bought pie this time.

The best pie of Ragbrai 2017. Blueberry with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

A town called Mallard where they make duck jokes. I’m so surprised. There was a rubber ducky race in town, and a lady holding a sign that said “Release the Quackin'”. The picture didn’t turn out. Alas.

Breakfast on Day 7. By then, it’s just like, to heck with yogurt, let’s skip to the pie. The banana made it healthy, of course.

Me at the end. Look how relieved I am to only have about one mile left to go. It’s like Ragbrai is hard work or something.

If I ever go back, I’m going to angle for a really difficult year, like the least flat ever, or the longest, or something.

Next up is a trip to Indianapolis, IN for Gencon. I like the show a lot, and this is Gencon’s 50th year. If you’re going, take a moment to wander the Author’s Avenue aisles. I’ll be the one in the hat with the dragon on top. Say hi and ask for a demo of Dwago.

The Casual Cyclist’s Guide to @RAGBRAI_IOWA Training Terms

Are you training for Ragbrai? I am! Taking time out from writing every day is something of a hardship for my publication schedule, but I’m doing it anyway. And hey, we all need a little more exercise in the spring. Or maybe that’s just me. Regardless, these are some important terms relating to cycling that you may not have heard before in this context.

Rain (n.): The thing that happens every time I get on my bike between September and July; What causes copious spots on my glasses, thus making cycling more exciting.

Gear Denial (n.): That moment when you could shift to a lower gear, but really just don’t wanna; laziness.

Iowa Flat (adj.): Any cycling route that’s 20-25% flat. Compare to Texas Flat (90-95%) or Cascadia Flat (0.5%).

Hill (n.): Any segment of road that requires you to shift to an easier gear; uphill.

Mountain (n.): Any segment of road that requires you to step off your bike and walk; A section of road for which your training goal is total domination and/or subjugation.

Downhill rest (n.): The precious few moments for breathing you hope will come after the hill.

Water bottle (n.): The thing you forgot to slip into the cage on your bike frame, thus necessitating you cut your ride short to avoid dehydration; the thing you dropped in the middle of the hill which turns said hill into a mountain.

Helmet (n.): The thing you damned well better turn around and go put on as soon as you notice you forgot it, dumbass.

Car (n.): Artillery round; The enemy.

Tired (adj.): How you feel when you could go five more miles, but you’d rather stop and check your email on your phone until you stop panting and/or sweating so much.

Exhausted (adj.): How you feel when five more miles will probably kill you, but you do it anyway because that’s how far you are from home; A sign you’re not ready for Ragbrai yet.

Happy cycling!

Sweet home Ala-@Ragbrai_Iowa

I’m not doing Ragbrai this year. Now that the weather is finally perfect here in the PNW for cycling, it’s really hitting me hard. I’m going to miss everything about it, including the frantic need to train. Because of my demanding publishing schedule this spring, it’s for the best I’m not going anyway, because I just don’t have time to ride my bike for 2-5 hours on any given day. I will continue to not have time for that until next December.

I’m feeling another Top Ten list coming on. It’s like a recurring rash.

Top Ten Things I’ll Miss About Ragbrai This Year

  1. Disassembling my bike and wedging it into its box.
  2. So much corn. Everywhere and in everything, prepared every way imaginable.
  3. So much bacon. Everywhere and in everything, prepared every way imaginable.
  4. Pitching my tent in 50mph winds.
  5. Riding my bike against the wind. In sleet. In July.
  6. Riding my bike in 105 degree heat. Plus humidity. The next day.
  7. The pure joy of discovering a genuine toilet during a week where kybos (porta-potties) are the norm.
  8. Holding my tent up through a midnight thunderstorm, complete with a tornado warning.
  9. The random coincidence of chatting with someone I have an unexpected connection to after meeting by virtue of riding at the same pace for a minute or so.
  10. Packing up my bike, saying goodbye, and getting that first good night’s sleep after the madness.

Hopefully, I’ll see you in 2017, Ragbrai. Until then, I may mysteriously pop up in Iowa around that time on my way to points farther east as I tour the midwest, doing conventions. Here’s also hoping I can still lose some of my hibernation weight despite not cycling much this spring.

#Ragbrai Roundup 2015

Ragbrai ended on Saturday, 7/25, in Davenport. This year, I had a mixed bag experience. Although I completed the whole ride (unlike last year), it wore me down more than I expected. It’s like I got older in between or something.

Day -1: Sioux City
I arrived in Davenport on Friday to leave my car behind and take a shuttle to Sioux City. I made friends with three dirty old men: Bob, Fred, and Bill (I am not making these names up). We pulled into the Pork Belly Ventures campsite at about 9pm, in the waning hours of sunshine. The wind gusted and howled, and my tent desperately wanted to be anywhere but the spot I chose for it. With help, I got the effing thing staked down and put up in the damp heat. We could see a storm coming, but had hopes it would swing north. Alas. Around midnight, the tornado sirens went off, then the storm crashed over us. There’s nothing more fun than watching your tent dance and wriggle, waiting to see if the poles survive. (They did.)

Day 0: Sioux City
In case it ever matters to you for some reason, MetroPCS does not offer service in Sioux City. I had the whole day to do as I pleased, though, so I rode my bike around town, hunting for free wifi. At a cafe recommended by a gentleman entering the library (which had a very weak signal from the outside), I discovered I had fifteen emails, six voicemail messages, a handful of text messages, and partridge in a pear tree. Aside from being hot and humid (again), the day went well. I mostly chilled in the shade, watching the madness of people arriving unfold.

Day 1: Storm Lake
The first day is generally not too bad. You’re fresh, trained up, and excited. This day suuuuuucked. The longest in terms of mileage and worst in terms of feet of climb, the first day drained my soul out. I think it’s still lying on the side of the road between cornfields someplace. Or maybe that was a soybean field. Hill after hill after hill and hill, and on and on and on and on… The intervals between most of the towns were long, too. I left at about 6am and got in at about 3pm. Eight hours to ride 75 miles isn’t bad, but it’s not great either. I should have been able to do it in 7. Value added bonus–my knee braces gave me a heat rash, complete with blisters!

I attempted to capture the vast enormity of the PBV camp and utterly failed. It's a huge, sprawling thing.

I attempted to capture the vast enormity of the PBV camp and utterly failed. It’s a huge, sprawling thing.

Day 2: Fort Dodge
Ugh, my butt hurt. A lot. And my foot. My thighs thought I was joking when I got up on my bike again around 6am. I TRAINED, DAMMIT. I expected this day to be rough, but it was awful. Although most of the ride was gloriously flat, long intervals between towns again made it harsher than it needed to be. The weather cooperated, being cool in the morning and not heating up until after I got in from this 69 mile day at about 2pm. Why is the sun so intense in Iowa? It’s not like that in WA.

Day 3: Eldora
Something was wrong with my seat adjustment, because my toe went numb, just like it did 2 years ago. As I type this a week later, my toe is still half numb (I can walk, and it’ll be fine. Probably.). Seventy-three miles of Iowa felt like a punishment instead of a joy, but I was awakened early by my neighbors and got on the road by 5:30am. Lovely sunrise (I think this was the day…the morning bits are kind of blurring together already). Fed up with my aching foot and the heat rash/blisters from my braces, I shifted my seat and decided not to wear the knee braces for the next day. What could possibly go wrong?

Bacon, me, and corn. It only needs a windmill to be more Iowa.

Day 4: Cedar Falls
The short day! Only 60 miles. Up and out by 6am, in by 12:30pm. Made decent time, stopped and smelled metaphorical flowers, had generally good day except that my posterior still felt it needed to express its general displeasure with my vacation choices. At least I got a good camping spot, and I got to see a friend who happens to live nearby and is one of the biggest reasons I keep going back to Ragbrai every year. My knees gave me not a single twinge, so I didn’t put the braces back on for the rest of the ride (and that turned out okay–I may have trained enough to not need them anymore).

Day 5: Hiawatha
Although today featured 70 miles of riding, the towns were all close together, making it a series of pleasant little jaunts. Just about when my patootie began to scream, another town happened, giving me the chance to walk a bit and sit a bit and not suffer much. On the road by 6am, in camp by about 2pm. I got to sleep inside an air conditioned trampoline place, which afforded the opportunity to have an effing nap. After a bunch of nights of crappy sleep in a row, the nap really helped. I got to see a bit of the Tour de France, as explained by someone who’s actually interested in competitive cycling. I also got to sleep at a reasonable hour and did not wake up until 5am, when someone else’s alarm went off.

Day 6: Coralville
Recharged by my great night of sleep, I slogged through the morning with digestive issues. The dinner in camp the night before had been a cut of steak with some vegetables and whatnot, and I suspect the steak to have been the purveyor of gastric malfeasance. Somewhere around 11am, I, er, had a…extended visit to a kybo, then I had a piece of the best pie in the universe (aside from my own, of course), and then I climbed the first of a series of monster hills. And then it began to rain. For the first time on the ride, I felt AWESOME. I climbed those motherf—ing hills with a jaunty (or perhaps mad) laugh. It rained all the way into town, and had to wait until the storm passed to get my luggage, which the PBV crew had thoughtfully protected under tarps. I ❤ PBV.

I forget where you were, Cow, but you were hawking really yummy malts.

I forget where you were, Cow, but you were hawking really yummy malts.

Day 7: Davenport
Nothing really stood out about this day, other than that the night of sleep before hadn’t been stellar. It was hotter ‘n heckbiscuits and twice as damp. To minimize clothing for the night, I wore my still-damp sports bra to sleep, and it didn’t dry overnight. That’s how hot and wet it was. The ride itself went along nicely, with a mix of long and short intervals, some flat straightaways that I jammed at 20mph, and a few steep hills at the end.

Overall, I’m not going to decide whether I do it again next year until the route announcement. This ride felt harsh, like my body already ticked off the Ragbrai box and wants to find something less rigorous to do for vacation. On the plus side, thanks to my Iowa friend, I have a rough outline for a new trilogy of books, and some additional ideas for what to do to Bobby whenever I get around to writing his next book.

Coming soon: a cover reveal for Al-Kabar, the next Ilauris book!

#Ragbrai Roundup

Ragbrai ran from Sunday, July 20, to Saturday, July 26. This year, I was able to find wifi once, in a park with no benches on a day too warm and sticky to be sitting outside typing for long. I’d been hoping to blog it day by day, but said lack of wifi made that impossible. Instead, here’s an omnibus of the week.

This year’s themes: The Campsite Is A Lie, Let’s Make a Deal, The Little Engine That Could (But Shouldn’t Have), and, of course, Pie!

As with last year, I went with Pork Belly Ventures, a charter service that provides campsite selection, meals, baggage transport, showers, laundry service, and a few other assorted perks. I drove to the end town, Guttenburg, and took a shuttle to the start town, Rock Valley, on Friday afternoon. We were told to expect the shuttle to take 6 hours. It left at 2pm. Somewhere around 8pm, when it was quite clear we had yet to get anywhere near the town, I began cracking jokes: “The campsite is a lie!”, “Apparently, we’re actually going to Godot Valley.”, [someone else] “Are we getting close, at least?” [Me] “No. We’re never going to get there. We’ll just keep driving to infinity and beyond.”. We got in well after dark, and had to check in, collect baggage, and pitch tents before getting some sleep no earlier than about 11pm, when the camp finally quieted down.

The next day, I met the two people who pitched their tent next to mine. Over the course of the week, they became new friends, which is generally the best part about Ragbrai: meeting random people and finding out they’re your kind of weird. I checked out the town with them, and also had to go off on my own to pick up ten or fifteen things I managed to forget. Minor details, like a cable to charge my phone and sunscreen. Over the course of the day, the rest of the thousand-plus people using Pork Belly (PBV) arrived in clumps, filling out the campsite.

Day 1 was a medium-long day, reported to be 67 miles. The weather favored us generally, except for some crosswinds in the middle parts. What made this day notable, aside from the onset of saddle sores around mile 45 that would be with me all week, was how we were ‘almost there’ for 8 miles. We arrived in town (yay!) and just had to keep going and going and going to find the campsite (which was obviously a lie), thoughtfully placed almost as far away as possible while still being in Okoboji’s town limits.

Day 2: a short day of only 40 miles. Not an easy day. Crosswinds and headwinds plagued the ride the entire distance, regardless of what time you got going. It felt like twice the distance, in many ways. As a value-added bonus, my knee elected to inform me that it wasn’t happy. I stopped to give it a break, looked down at it and said, “I’ll make you a deal. Get me to Emmetsburg and I’ll take tomorrow off.” To sweeten the deal, I had a pickle (salt is good for muscle strain, which may have been the real problem and not my stupid knee issues). It got me to Emmetsburg.

As promised to my knee, I took Day 3 – the long day, at 82 miles with an option to do 100 if you’re nuts – off. PBV offers a sag shuttle, no questions asked, for a small extra fee. They cart you and your bike to the next town, no riding required. Some folks do it every day just to come along with a friend or loved one more keen on biking than them. People who rode that day made it clear this was a good day to rest, as the weather chose to be hot and sticky. This was the only day I had no pie, though, because there was none to be had in the end town. I was a sad squirrel without pie. Also, we camped next to a swamp with a mosquito generator in it, and I must have acquired at least 20 bites (I am mildly allergic to mosquito bites, so they swell up and take a long time to heal). If I’d had a sword, I would have gone skeeter slaying in that pond for the xp.

By far, Day 4 was the best day of the whole week. It was short at 38 miles, with no wind and lots of things to look at besides corn and soybeans. I had the single best pie of my ragbrai this year on that day (cherry), and also the worst (apple). You gotta watch out for those church ladies. Sometimes, they just get premade pies from the grocery store, cut them up, and repackage them. Then they charge $2 a slice. That may be fine for an average pie experience, but it doesn’t cut the cinnamon on ragbrai.

Day 5, a 63 mile day, also went well for me. The weather remained pleasant and delightful, the pie was fine, and I had lemonade with my new friends. The hills were completely doable. My posterior didn’t care for the length of the ride, and my neck tensed up quite a bit, but overall, not much to complain about. Pickles and chocolate milk are awesome. Smoothies, not so much. One of my tent poles broke, but I had a replacement part, so not really a big deal.

Day 6. DOOOOOOOOM. At 68 miles, this day seemed like it would be nothing more than a repeat of Day 5 with (hopefully) different scenery. No such luck. I woke up to the crack of thunder at 4:20am (I’d been getting up between 4 and 4:30 every day, so this wasn’t really a big deal timewise). A storm rumbled through, keeping me in my tent until 5:30, at which time I hopped up and got my rear in gear. All through the storm, I’d been getting dressed and ready to go, so all I had to do was use the kybo (what we call porta-potties on ragbrai), stow my tent, and be on my way.

As it turns out, there were two storms. The second hit me about an hour into my ride. Oh, and by the way, this day’s roads were awful – full of unavoidable bumps and cracks. So, there I was, riding my bike in a downpour. On the whole, that really wasn’t so bad. The temperature was a little low, down in the 50s, so it took a lot of energy to do it, but that just meant I needed to eat more. Right? Sure! I had a pulled pork sandwich for breakfast, after four bananas, a yogurt cup, a granola bar, electrolyte water…and probably something else I’ve already forgotten about.

In retrospect, I should have stopped in the first pass-through town and waited out the storm in a warm place. Naturally, I didn’t. The route turned down a road with a headwind, still in the rain and cold and with crappy road. The wind picked up to a bazillion miles per hour (I swear!), gusting so hard the rain felt like hail. It may have been hail at some point. A lot of people, myself included, stopped several times along this stretch of frozen hellscape, even walking part of the way. Some very nice people at a church graveyard let us go inside the chapel to warm up. I probably should have stayed there until the storm blew over. Once again, I didn’t.

On the way to the next town, Westgate, I decided I’d had enough of that day and asked the first officialish person I ran across where to sit and wait for the sag wagon. She pointed me to the first aid station and suggested I have some hot cocoa. After going inside and sitting down, everything gets a little hazy in my memory banks. I know I had some hot cocoa, and I know I had a blanket draped over me. At some point, someone shook me awake to ask if I was okay, which came a surprise to me, since I didn’t remember leaning over and putting my head down on the table.

So, it seems I passed out from exhaustion and perhaps a mild case of hypothermia. I let them fuss over me (honestly, I was too tired to resist) for a while. Eventually, I was kinda bored and my butt didn’t like the chair anymore. Aside from that, the storm had blown over and the weather had warmed up and gotten sunny. The sag wagon was supposed to pick up in front of the first aid station, so I went outside to wait for it with my bike.

I waited. And waited. And waited. Someone else waited with me. We asked the EMTs about it, and they knew nothing. We asked a Sheriff that passed by about it, and he said to wait in a different spot. We moved to the different spot. Then moved a little more for better visibility. It got sunny, I put on sunscreen, and I felt a lot better as I sat around for several hours. Finally, after about 5 hours of doing nothing, I got fed up, climbed on my bike, and took off (I learned later than the sag wagon showed up about half an hour after I left).

The rest of the ride went well until the last five miles or so, when I really started to feel it again. The campsite was, of course, a lie, because obviously it would be on my worst day. When I finally saw the PBV trailers after riding through the whole fricking town, I cried from sheer exhaustion and went straight to the gentleman who takes requests and bikes for those who wish to ride the shuttle the next day. I slept horribly that night, presumably from the utter ridiculousness of being too tired to rest.

I did not ride the final day. Those who did said it wasn’t too bad, just a bit rough towards the end. The weather was great. Once the bus reached Guttenburg, we had to wait for the truck with our bikes to show up, and I rolled out of town in my car around 11am or so.

Right now, I don’t feel like I had fun this year, and am not completely sure I’ll do it again next year. Come January, though, when they announce the route, I suspect I’m gonna be chomping at the bit to sign up again. Ragbrai is like that. No matter how awful any individual day is, if you have fun once, you’re hooked for life.

#Ragbrai and Beyond

This year, I’ll be participating in my 3rd Ragbrai. It’s the largest and oldest bicycle rally in the US, which takes cyclists from the Missouri River (or close to it) to the Mississippi River in Iowa. When I explain it to people, I generally describe it as a rolling carnival. For seven days, you bicycle and camp and eat and drink and be merry!

My first year, a friend announced she was going to do it to cross it off her bucket list. I fantasized about going along, because I rarely get to spend time with her anymore. It had, at the time, been several years since I’d actually ridden my bike farther than a few miles, so I knew I couldn’t ride it myself. I kept seeing her FB posts about it, though, and kept thinking about it and thinking about it and thinking about it. Then, one day, on a lark, I signed up as a full week rider, figuring I could ride part of it and drive her group’s vehicle part of the time.

I started out on the first day, and rode the whole way. I felt pretty good, even the next morning. My physical endurance has always been pretty good – speed and power, not so much, but endurance, yeah. Cutting to the chase, although I could handle the ride overall (let’s not discuss the saddle sores, please), my knees couldn’t. I had a nonsurgical knee thing in college, which was *mumble* years ago, and it likes to come out and rawr anytime I stress it. Had I remembered that (I hadn’t stressed it in a long time), I might have thought to wear knee braces from the beginning. Since I didn’t, I managed to complete about 25% of the mileage for the rally that year due to my knee screaming in pain.

My new  (at the time) bike with my not-new car

My new (at the time) bike with my not-new car

After that defeat, I bought a new bike and an indoor trainer, and took the whole thing seriously. Because even though my knee gave me the finger, I still had a great time. Last year, I was able to get out on my bike for several long rides, and I rocked the Ragbrai. On the one hill everyone whined about for being soooooo steep, I laughed and made it to the top, because Worcester (where I live) isn’t called the City of Seven Hills for no reason. I wasn’t fast, but I did not get off my fricking bike for any fricking hill – unlike a reported ~75% of other riders who let that hill defeat them.

This year, I haven’t been able to get out for long rides much, but when I have, I felt pretty good, so I’m not concerned about completing it, or even about completing it well. It runs from 7/20-28, and there will be nothing from me during it. Although the idea of blogging it amuses me, I won’t have anything but my Kindle, and I already know I have trouble stringing words together coherently after riding 60 miles. I may try anyway. If I do, you’ll know why they’re loopy.

Of course, I haven’t exactly been my usual chatty/writey self lately, and I haven’t even left yet. That’s because I’m also moving across the country this summer. After Ragbrai, I’ll be continuing on to the Left Coast and my new home in Washington State. As it turns out, doing a cross-country move (as a divorced mom of two, no less, and out of house I’ve been living in for more than a decade) is a lot of work. Most of it is physical work, which wipes me out too much for brain work. So, I’m way behind on The Baker of Brennan, my two next book projects, formatting Damsel In Distress for Smashwords, and working on the release whatnot for The Greatest Sin #2. Way, waaaaaay behind.

I’ll be moved and settled in early August. Until then, I’ll continue to be spotty and erratic. Bear with me, folks. I’ll be back.